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Chavez returns to UA Honors College

The Peruvian-born student gains release after two month detainment.

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Jonathan Chavez, the University of Arkansas Honors College student who was identified as being an alien during a random Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweep in Florida and detained in Fort Lauderdale for nearly two months, was released Feb. 4 on $1,000 bond and has returned to Fayetteville to resume his studies.

ICE officials stopped Chavez, 21, a native of Peru, as he got off a bus in Florida; he was on his way to visit his mother, who has legal residency, at Christmas.

Jonathan's parents moved from Peru to Rogers on tourist visas when Jonathan was in middle school. They have since divorced and remarried; Chavez' father and younger sister also are legal residents. They did not apply for residency for Jonathan because of bad legal advice, Chavez' Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Sandra Lambert, has said.

The senior voice major, who graduated with a 4.0 grade point average from high school in Rogers and now has a 3.8 at the U of A, was released Feb. 4 by ICE. He returned to Fayetteville last week. Lambert, Chavez' attorney, told the Times she did not know why ICE had decided to release Lambert; she was preparing for a bond hearing set for Feb. 17. She speculated that ICE acted because of publicity in the case or because Chavez has applied for deferred action on his deportation. Chavez said in a post on the Facebook page "Praying for Jonathan Chavez," set up by supporters in December, that he hopes the Department of Homeland Security will transfer his deferral hearing to Arkansas.

Chavez "is an all-around good kid," Lambert said, the kind of person "deferred action is intended for." She said he would have been a "prime candidate" for the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act. That proposal, defeated in Congress last year, would have allowed undocumented persons who arrive in the United States as minors to apply for permanent residency after completing two years in college or the military.

A member of Christ on Campus ministry at the U of A and a former counselor at Camp War Eagle in the Ozarks, Chavez participated in several Bible study groups in the detention facility. He told a friend he met at Camp Ozark who is now a youth minister in Wichita, Kan., that "it was the best Christmas break he ever had." Chavez was convinced that God was working through the ICE officials.

In a post thanking his supporters that he made after his release on the "Praying for Jonathan" site Chavez wrote, "Best winter break I ever had. I was able to share God's love, how great is that?"

Bob McMath, dean of the Honors College, said the university had asked Homeland Security to allow Chavez to be released on bond so he could continue his studies. But like Chavez' lawyer Lambert, he was surprised that release came before the scheduled bond hearing.

Chavez is legally enrolled at the university as a paying student. McMath said he could not say whether Chavez was getting tuition assistance from private funds.

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